Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he would lead the charge to bring a new military command to MacDill Air Force Base that could create more than 4,000 new jobs with an annual economic benefit of up to $450 million if such a move is possible.
“I absolutely would lead that effort,” he said, responding to questions from The Tribune about whether he would be interested in pursuing bringing U.S. Africa Command, a joint forces military command similar to U.S. Central Command, to MacDill.
The questions came in response to a report released by the Government Accountability Office Wednesday calling for the Pentagon to consider moving Africom, created in 2008 to oversee U.S. military operations in Africa, to the United States from Stuttgart, Germany, where it is now based. The move would save the Pentagon between $60 million and $70 million per year and “could create up to 4,300 additional jobs, with an annual impact ranging from $350 million to $450 million,” according to the report, citing a 2012 Department of Defense study into whether Africom should be moved.
In January, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta decided to keep Africom in Stuttgart, even though it would cost more money.
“The commander judged it would be more operationally effective from its current location,” according to the Pentagon, “given shared resources with U.S. European Command,” also based in Stuttgart.
But the GAO report points out since Panetta's decision, “the Department of Defense has sought to fundamentally rethink how the department does business in an era of increasingly constrained fiscal resources.” The report also said that Panetta's decision was “not supported by a comprehensive and well-documented analysis that balanced the operational and cost benefits of the options available.” And it said that until the Pentagon can show why it is better to keep Africom in Germany rather than move it stateside, “the department may be missing an opportunity to accomplish its missions successfully at a lower cost.”
The Pentagon said its 2012 study was not meant to be comprehensive, only a response to a question about the future of Africom raised by the House Armed Services Committee during the budget process. But in a letter sent to the GAO Aug. 27, the Pentagon said it would study the matter if current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “sees the need to readdress the location of Africom.”
A Pentagon spokeswoman on Thursday declined comment on whether Hagel is considering relocating Africom.
Local leaders are ready to pounce if he does, a move they and some military experts say makes sense beyond the dollars.
“If this is a legitimate possibility, we would go after this as hard as any corporate relocation,” said Buckhorn, adding that he still needs to research whether it can happen.
Buckhorn said that once he confirmed that Africom was in play, he would reach out to Reps. C.W. “Bill” Young and Kathy Castor. Young is the chairman of the influential House Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee.
“Clearly, they would be key players in this from the start,” he said.
Young, after being contacted by The Tribune, said he will talk to officials at the Pentagon and the commands currently located at MacDill to see whether Africom may really be moved and whether it would make sense to bring it to MacDill.
“If it becomes a serious consideration, then of course I would definitely explore the possibility of MacDill,” he said.
Officials at the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill's host unit, could not immediately discuss the feasibility of housing a new command like Africom there.
Castor did not return a request for comment.
Rick Homans, president and chief executive officer of the Hillsborough County Economic Development Corp., said he too thinks bringing Africom to MacDill would be great for the region.
“There is no other way to say it than this would be huge,” said Homans, who like Buckhorn was reacting to questions from The Tribune. “To attract a command like this, with that level of payroll and employment, would have a huge direct impact to the economy. It would be a massive positive impact on the economy of wherever it goes. “
Homans said the EDC would “support and play whatever role is appropriate” to bring Africom to MacDill. “There are a lot of players that would be involved in an effort like that. It is a big deal to go after.”
Buckhorn said that aside from the economic benefits, there are other reasons to bring Africom to MacDill.
“It makes sense logistically,” he said. “It would compliment the two commands at MacDill that are already active in that part of the world. Given the spread of radical Islam into Africa, it would make sense both strategically and logistically that the command would be housed at MacDill.”
Aside from Centcom, MacDill also houses U.S. Special Operations Command. While Socom does not have operational control over special operations forces, it does oversee doctrine and recently gained direct authority over the special operations commands that do have operational control.
Buckhorn is not the only one who sees a natural synergy between MacDill's existing commands and Africom.
“Of all the places the Department of Defense might consider a consolidation, if you will, of combatant commands, MacDill, in my opinion, would be one of a few logical places,” said Harry M “Bud” Wyatt III, a recently retired Air Force lieutenant general who now serves as one of eight commissioners on the National Commission for the Structure of the Air Force, which is studying ways to reshape the flying branch.
Wyatt said he is familiar with MacDill, having landed A-7 jets there in the '80s as a pilot and later visiting as director of the Air National Guard.
“As you are seeing now with Syria, Libya, Egypt, there is some common sense synergy,” said Wyatt, who also serves on the board of the Roosevelt Group, which helps communities deal with base closure issues, “Why not have them leverage the synergy of close proximity? MacDill would be certainly an appealing place for that to happen.”
But MacDill is not the only place that would be under consideration to house Africom should it move, he said.
Virginia's two U.S. Senators on Wednesday fired off letters to the Pentagon, seeking Africom, and using the Pentagon's 2011 elimination of the Joint Forces Command, once headquartered in that state, as political leverage.
But MacDill has advantages over JFCOM's old location in Virginia, said Wyatt.
“What MacDill has that (Virginia) does not have is that it already has two combatant commands,” he said.
Reporter Ted Jackovics contributed to this report.